23 Feb 2021

Prominent businessman's trial: Secret recording of alleged bribe played in court

8:20 pm on 23 February 2021

A man who's accusing a prominent businessman of fondling him in bed says he secretly recorded one of the man's associates trying to bribe him with $15,000, and felt threatened with retaliation by a "cartel" that would damage his career if he didn't withdraw his police complaint.

Crown Prosecutor Simon Foote QC (left) and Defence lawyer David Jones QC.

Crown Prosecutor Simon Foote QC (left) and Defence lawyer David Jones QC. Photo: Pool / New Zealand Herald / Michael Craig

The accused, a wealthy man who has name suppression, is charged with three counts of indecent assault and two of perverting the course of justice.

This complainant is the third to take the stand in the Auckland High Court to accuse the businessman of indecent assault.

He was staying at the prominent man's house and doing some work for him in 2016. He had food poisoning late one night and went to bed, when he heard knocking at the door.

"[The accused] then entered my room. I was thinking 'okay, he's just going to help me settle into bed' and I was praying that he leaves. He then pulls the sheet, climbs over me... and then spoons me from behind and embraces me."

He said this wasn't the first time the accused had been sexually suggestive - the complainant said the businessman pulled down his pants nonconsensually and complimented his penis.

The accused, he said, also turned up earlier that night in a room he was in, completely naked, and suggested they go back to the accused's bedroom together.

Once the businessman was in the complainant's bed, the businessman started touching the man's penis and body, saying "let me caress you", the complainant told the jury.

He said a million thoughts were going through his mind but he was frozen.

"Do I just lie here and let this man take advantage of me and abuse me? Or do I call for help? Do I defend myself?"

This went on for five or 10 minutes, he said, but "felt like hours".

"I was able to elbow him from behind, jab him, punch him, push him out of the way to get up out of the bed."

He said he managed to flee to another room.

The accused left and went back to his own room, and the man, feeling even more ill, started vomiting again and he was taken to hospital for some fluids.

It was there he told a nurse what happened, who arranged for police to speak with him early the next morning, which he did.

The man never returned to the businessman's house, not even to get his clothes.

Five months later, as a result of this man's allegations, the businessman was charged.

Shortly after the charge was laid, the complainant caught up with a mutual friend of both his and the accused's, who had introduced him to the businessman.

"He started almost talking in riddles, or in code. I thought [he] might be trying to convince me to change my story," he said.

"My intuition was like, 'you need to record this conversation because something's gonna happen'."

He sent the recording to a police officer working on his case.

Justice Geoffrey Venning.

Justice Geoffrey Venning. Photo: Pool / New Zealand Herald / Michael Craig

The recording was played to the court.

In it, a man talks about the complainant withdrawing his allegation.

"Dissolve it, get rid of it, let's get you started on this career, and let me ascertain some funds from [the businessman] at some point, which won't be hard, I can assure you of that," the associate said, who has name suppression.

"Get rid of yours, and I'll do the rest," he said, before he cackled.

The man in the recording offered the complainant access to a lawyer who would help him withdraw his complaint if he wanted to.

"If you made a - what do you call it? - a report, whatever, a written thing, [the lawyer] can help you with that...

"Well you've made an accusation haven't you?" "Yes," the complainant replied. "Well if you want to withdraw it, that's [the lawyer's] job.

"This way, you could make the whole thing, if you wanted, disappear."

A "nasty" group of people referred to as the "cartel" was referred to.

The complainant said he felt threatened that retaliation was likely if he didn't withdraw the complaint.

"I think blackmail and things could come out, but it's about your career."

Money was also mentioned by the mutual friend, which the complainant said didn't matter to him.

"The money is not an issue for me," the complainant replied. "It's more about the abuse of power between white and brown."

Crown Prosecutor Simon Foote QC asked the complainant about a cheque mentioned during the secret recording.

"[The associate] was referring to a cheque, it was made out to me... $15,000. He put it on the table, and slid it forward to me," the man said. He said he felt the money would be in exchange for withdrawing the complaint.

He took a picture of the cheque and also sent it to the police officer, a copy of which was distributed to the jury, showing the date, names, amount and the signatory.

In the recording, the associate identifies himself and mentions the accused by name.

The accused sat silently in the dock.

The trial, before a jury and Justice Venning, continues.